By Terrence McCoy
By Allie Conti
By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
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By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
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Manny Diaz's legacy seemed set in stone on October 22, 2009. That's when city commissioners voted 4-1 to approve Miami 21: the new-urbanism-inspired, pedestrian-friendly zoning code that then-Mayor Diaz had spent eight years championing. Miami 21 put the city on track to rival great metropolises like New York and Chicago, Diaz boasted. "I'm going to tell you that history will judge us right."
Five years later, the jury is still out on Miami 21. But history finds Diaz on the other side of the courtroom: Miami's "green mayor" is now representing Walmart in its efforts to build in midtown — a project that neighborhood activists have lambasted.
"He's using his eight years in public office as a cudgel to beat a Walmart into Miami when the vast majority of nearby local residents staunchly oppose it," says Grant Stern, a mortgage broker who's led opposition to Walmart's plan.
Diaz served as city mayor from 2001 until shortly after his Miami 21 triumph in 2009. During his tenure, he gained national attention for pushing a city of steel-and-concrete skyscrapers to become more pedestrian- and environment-friendly.
He promoted biking and famously used public transportation. In 2004, the Manhattan Institute named him its Urban Innovator of the Year. Diaz became buds with NYC enviro-crat Michael Bloomberg, and was named president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors in 2008.
In 2012, Diaz unveiled his own tribute to himself: a book he wrote during a fellowship at Harvard titled Miami Transformed: Rebuilding America One Neighborhood, One City at a Time.
The book played up Diaz's achievements and sugarcoated his administration's controversies, including City Manager Joe Arriola's resignation, Police Chief John Timoney's international jaunts, and Diaz's biggest disaster: his fervent support for Marlins Park.
But not even that revision hinted at Diaz's ultimate urbanism U-turn.
On January 22, the ex-mayor and four other attorneys from his law firm, Lydecker Diaz, filed papers to represent Walmart in its battle to build in midtown. In other words, the man who once stood for mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly, car-free local development is now pushing to bring a big-box store and massive parking garage to the neighborhood.
Diaz did not respond to a phone message and email requesting comment.
Local residents and business owners have appealed the city's decision to award Walmart a building permit, but it's an uphill battle. The world's largest retailer officially closed on the 4.6-acre site last month.